The battle for the lands of the caliphate

Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracy, argues that territories taken from the Islamic State (ISIS) must not be surrendered to the Islamic Republic (Iran). Such a surrender is almost certain unless President Trump acts to prevent it.

The territory in question is in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province, which contains large oil and gas reserves and is adjacent to the Iraqi border. May warns that if Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is allowed to seize Deir Ezzor, it will have effectively established a land bridge through the northern Middle East from Tehran all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Not for more than a thousand years has a Persian empire controlled those lands.

There is no question that Iran covets control of that land — the fruit of victories won by the U.S. and its allies in the war against ISIS — and few would question the undesirability of permitting Iran to appropriate it. The question is, what’s required to prevent this seizure. May answers:

Preventing that outcome will require a continuing American commitment to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Kurdish and Arab warriors that has proven its mettle in battle against the Islamic State. The SDF will need funding, American air power and the assistance of U.S. Special Forces if it is to prevail over Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as Iranian-backed Shia militias (of many nationalities) and Hezbollah fighters.

May acknowledges the risks associated with this course of action. They include, of course, a military confrontation with pro-Iranian forces. Indeed, Iranian officials are now saying that “the next phase of the conflict in Syria is for the ‘resistance forces’ to confront the U.S. military and its local allies.”

The primary risk of inaction is the establishment of what Jordan’s King Abdullah II calls a “Shia Crescent” in the Middle East. It would encompass Iraq, where no government would dare defy Iran; Syria, where the mass-murderer Assad would serve as Iran’s obedient satrap; Lebanon, where Hezbollah, Iran’s terrorist foreign legion, has been tightening its grip; and possibly Yemen, where Iran is funding, arming, and presumably instructing Houthi rebels.

Once the Shia crescent is established, Iran would be in a strong position to threaten the pro-American nations of the region, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and of Israel.

Last month, President Trump announced a new strategy “to confront the Iranian regime’s hostile actions,” including its development of missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, its support for terrorists, and its neo-imperialist aggressions. Soon, in Deir Ezzor province, we will find out if Trump is serious about confronting Iran.

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